The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), the national trade association for the digital media and marketing industries, released its third annual “IAB 250 Direct Brands to Watch” report, identifying the direct-to-consumer brands that are driving positive change in the US consumer economy. More than 3,500 brands were analyzed before IAB narrowed the list to the most important 250 direct-to-consumer products.
The IAB 250 doesn’t just represent a new phenomenon, it represents both the future and the now for brand success. Legacy brands can learn a lot from the IAB 250. Understanding and following disruptor brands means you are following the money all the way to the future—the future of media, marketing, and consumption.
“These brands epitomize the growing disruptor brand economy, representing the leading edge of business development across the U.S. and globally,” says IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg. “We watch these brands because their business model, personalized relationships with consumers and go-to-market strategies are transforming how brands are born, how they are advertised, and what consumers expect. Traditional brands aspire to their nimbleness and engagement. If they want to understand the future of the consumer economy, there is no better model to follow than the IAB 250.”
Sue Hogan, SVP Research and Analytics, IAB, explains, “Consumers and distribution channels have changed. Brands go to market faster, with marketing that’s focused on stimulating conversation and ensuring powerful one-to-one customer experiences. At the core of everything is a continuous stream of first-party data. Brands that don’t adapt, will not survive.”
She continued, “Brands that rely on old supply chains, have a smaller social footprint, and are costly and perhaps already losing retail market share, have the most to lose—or the most to gain, depending on how you react to the changes. Someone will take your category to the next level. It can be you, or a DTC founder. It all depends on how early or late you choose to react.”
The methodology behind the IAB 250 Brands to Watch in 2020 requires that, firstly, the brands were founded after 2010 in the US. After scraping the web to create a database of DTCs, additional data is aggregated using multiple sources, including Rival IQ for social footprint and velocity. IAB uses a weighted formula to create indices to rank Economic Efficiency (e.g., Revenue; # Employees); Financial Confidence (e.g., Revenue; Funding; Partners; Max Valuation); and social metrics. Companies are ranked by categories for presentation purposes.
Top Insights from the IAB 250 Direct Brands and Services:
VC Funding Is Still Emerging: Despite all the talk of VC funding and news articles about VCs looking for ROI, IAB research data tells a different story. A scant 11% of IAB 250 DTC brands are VC backed. Just 11 of the 87 companies on the list in California are VC backed. And 10 of the 62 in NYC are backed. The implication? There are still plenty of funding opportunities out there. However, VC funding is not mandatory.
Social Footprint and Media Diversification Correlate to Sales: For DTC brands, their social footprint is critical to driving business. If no brand is dominating the social conversation in a given category, there is significant room for a major DTC brand to take hold and thrive. There’s no question that digital spend and social footprint are correlated. But scaling social alone will not get a DTC to the next level of growth.
IAB research has identified many opportunities for media diversification, including exciting new advertising units. In Q4 2019 Pinterest launched “Shop the Look mobile ads” enabling retailers to feature up to 25 products in a single ad on mobile devices and direct users to their own retail site. Other features for better UX and engagement are continually being created to ensure growth and relevancy in this growing Image Search space.
TikTok is beta-testing shoppable short-form videos that will allow viewers to click on the in‐app video and be taken directly to the creator’s store without leaving TikTok.
Small wonder that the referral share of traffic that social provides e‐commerce sites grew 20% from 7.6% to 9.1%; this is the largest growth seen since 2016.
Subscription and Customization: It’s impossible to overstate the role and impact data has on the way IAB DTC 250 brands do business. Data impacts not just how these brands sell, but what they sell. DTC is where the promise of mass customization gets real. For example, pet care brands combine specific educational information about a consumer’s pet with customized products created for the pet’s precise growth stage. Everything about the experience is customized—a consumer simply creates a profile and a care package arrives within 7 days.
A core part of the promise of DTC brands is that they can and will know consumers better, serve them better, and adapt to their needs better than any large-scale brand sold through mass retail.
The Rise of the Mega DTCs: In the early days, you could be excused for dismissing DTC brands as minor niche players driving tiny amounts of revenue. No more. No less than seven disruptor IAB 250 brands have revenues of over $100MM. IAB research has also revealed that the verticals yielding the highest revenue in the shortest period of time are in categories like personal care, health/wellness, baby care/parenting, and pet care.
More than Half of DTC Founders Are Women: Among the many changes wrought by the rise of DTC: it appears to be democratizing entrepreneurship. More than half (53 percent) of DTC brands have female founders. The first wave of DTC brands with female founders included female apparel brands like ThirdLove and cosmetics brands like Glossier. In 2020, female DTC founders aren’t just competing in “women’s” categories—they are battling for share in nearly every category imaginable.
Personal Care Brands to Watch:
- The Honest Company
- Athena Club
- By Humankind
- Felix Gray
- Function of Beauty
- Kosas Cosmetics
- Modern Fertility
- NaturAll Club
- Public Goods
- Thrive Causemetics
- Wander Beauty
- Winky Lux
- Youth To The People
- Loli Beauty
Personal Care Services to Watch:
- Core Wellness
Health and Wellness Brands to Watch:
- Campus Protein
- Ample Foods
- Dyln Inspired
- Hello MD
- Kaleidoscope Labs
- Liquid I.V.
- Lume Deodorant
- 253 Organic
Health and Wellness Services to Watch:
- Blink Health
- Infinite Recovery
- Learn to Live
- Ten Percent Happy
- Prescribe Fit
While IAB has identified the list of DTC brands and services to watch, this year has started with significant and very different “news-events” related to the DTC landscape: the FTC lawsuit and the termination of the Edgewell acquisition of Harry’s, the shuttering of Brandless, and the Casper IPO.
Sue Hogan said, “The direct brand economy is continuing to evolve and the IAB is devoted to following its evolution. There are going to be winners and losers, but most importantly we have to understand how these brands have forever changed the consumer experience and customer expectations. We believe the insights and business models that many of these DTC brands provide are a good roadmap for success.”
She continued, “DTC brands have completely re-engineered how they build and produce their goods, how they go-to-market and grow a brand. They ‘stack’ their own supply chain—renting/leasing links in the chain to customize for their business needs, reducing costs and increasing speed to market. Additionally, DTC brands were born online, investing heavily in social media while executing diversified media strategies. Finally, these disruptor brands offer new levels of customization and personalization. They purposefully capitalize on their first-party data—building customer service and one-to-one engagements leveraging those insights.”
Photo: Curology via Unsplash